Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Shut up and get to my point

Seeing as watching David Mitchell talk about cunnilingus on That Mitchell and Webb Look blew up my set top box (this is not a euphemism, it actually happened) it looks like I'm going to have to blog for my entertainment this evening. 

And what could be more entertaining than writing about how I'm never wrong. Yes, that's right, I'm never wrong. Well, not according to other people anyway. Otherwise they would stick to the points or arguments I raise and not rely on hysterical diversions and departures to give them something to say, wouldn't they? 

Yeah, you do know what I mean. I'm talking about those instances when you say something like "I'm not actually opposed to immigration as a whole" and it somehow gets translated into "I'm oblivious to your situation, your life and your feelings. Please correct me in the most indignant manner possible because I'm an idiot for not talking about your circumstances in fine point detail". 

I can only assume that such people are in awe of my flawless logic and reasoning, left to scrabble around in the remains of the debate, trying to pick up scraps where they can find them. Pity the poor fools as they feed on morsels of hyperbole and misunderstanding for survival. I literally rock. 

Except I don't of course. Even the most cursory glance over my life will tell you that I am wrong 99% of the time so why the need to veer so far off the point in the first place? Why are people so incapable of listening and engaging? (And succinctly gunning down my argument, at which point I do actually shut up.)

Self-importance would be one answer. There's nothing like the thrill people get when approaching a chance to crap on about themselves, particularly if it means recounting tales of woe. The whole world doesn't understand them and you become its representative. Or at least you would be if you were listening. In reality all you can do is wonder whether to punch them or appease them. 

Another likely answer is that many people are only capable of holding a single concept in their minds at a time. They'll pluck out one aspect of what you said, attach a personal experience or viewpoint and then run with it. Whatever else you mentioned is a mere dot on the horizon by the time they've finished. Although I'm sure it can hear them shouting. 

But this is incredibly dumb isn't it? Most things in life are complex and variable. Even if your pesky opposition is right in what they say, it's hardly an achievement if you fail to include all other relevant facts or opinions. It's like boasting about building a house and then becoming ridiculously proud of having just one brick. 

My last stab at understanding would be that, particularly on internet forums and comments sections, binary thinking is often favoured. You're right or wrong, good or bad, left or right, in agreement or not. No shades of grey exist. If there's a system of rating or recommending comments on a site, check it out, you'll see how swayed readers are by this type of thinking. If ever there were a reason for keeping your opinions to yourself, you'll find it online. 


  1. Why are people so incapable of listening and engaging?

    For me, it's fear. Fear of dead air in the conversation, the presence of which would mark me as conversationally inept. I'm so terrified of this that as soon as you (not you in particular, but you in general) start to speak, all my effort goes into preparing questions, anecdotes or, in extreme cases, changes of topic; that way I'll always be ready for the moment when you stop talking.

    If you listen to one of our conversations without listening to the words, you'll be impressed by how great it is. It's a well-timed and well-balanced exchange of noise, with varied intonation and tempo to demarcate different phases of the exchange. The noises superficially appear to be that of an awesome conversation. However, if you analyse the information passed between us you'll see that it's essentially nothing, and that's fine with me. I don't really care what you have to say; as long as I can terminate the conversation without appearing rude or weird, I'll consider it a success.

    Oh, and enable HTML in comments and also anonymous quoting. If my psychiatrist finds out that I've been on the internet she'll go mental.

  2. Robert, do you consider your fear of being, "conversationally inept" to be because you're intelligent, have high standards for yourself and transfer this onto others? If so, welcome!

    I can certainly recognise what you're saying. I suppose what I was annoyed about was when it becomes more of a heated discussion. There are some people who seem to use you as a ventriloquists dummy, putting words in your mouth and not caring a bean for what you are actually trying to say. You place not appearing rude pretty high up in importance (I salute you) - this bunch seem oblivious.

    But your point could reasonably carry across. Perhaps, as you fear rudeness (and I might, say, fear revealing how drunk I am), they fear being seen to be wrong or weak?

  3. I think the fear is just because, as a human, I don't want people to think I'm a wally. It would be nice to not care about what people think of you, but it takes a tremendous amount of self confidence to genuinely not care...certainly more than I have (though it does depend hugely on context).

    IMO fear of wrongness or weakness is quite likely to be the motivation for these ventriloquists' behaviour, but I wonder what their aim is in engaging you in conversation in the first place? More to the point, what's your aim in allowing them to engage you?

    (By the way, I'm honoured that you actually enabled anonymous commenting and HTML...did you notice how much more engaging my comment was with the italics tag? Almost too engaging. That's the power of emphasis, right there.)

  4. Happy to make you feel honoured - happy to listen to suggestions. See? See how happy to engage I am??

    Context is certainly important but I'm picturing general socialising, family gatherings and to a lesser extent even work discussions. Group stuff rather than sitting in a pub one-to-one. So my aim in engaging with them would in some cases simply be being polite and, if I'm honest, in other cases the fact that I prefer to talk about something more meaty rather than endless, mundane small-talk. In other words, it seemed like a good idea at the time!

    It's the arrogance that pisses me off. That a conversation should be hijacked and steered towards something else entirely. Usually something more simplistic and (what do you know) something that allows them the opportunity to prattle on about themselves. And I will be left watching them having a debate with what they think I said or merely one aspect of it (which distorts what I was trying to say). They're essentially having a conversation with themselves. Little wonder I end up as the one in the wrong.

    Hence my irritation.

    I might also venture that today's culture of 'Have Your Say' isn't really helping. Self-righteous waffle is all the rage. I guess I would just find it a shame to see this spill over into the way we relate to one another generally.

    The more I think about this, the more I believe carrying a cardboard cut-out of me to whip out and substitute for myself on these occasions would be an excellent solution. My delightful fellow guest has someone to share their Aristotle-like wisdom with, my social obligations are met, the real me can be found out of earshot and by the wine.

  5. I'm getting a strong sense that this post was inspired by a specific event involving a soirée and some alcohol...

    Today I found myself with a group of interesting people, some of whom knew what they were talking about, having a fairly in-depth conversation about listening; coincidence!

    This page - the 'levels' bit - seems to describe more or less what we were discussing (it's based on Covey, AFAIK). It's nice to see that this stuff has been formalised. Maybe you'll read it? If so, maybe you'll find it interesting? And if so, maybe you'll say so here?

  6. Nope, not an isolated incident unfortunately. In fact it's the regular occurrence of such frustrating encounters that has left me feeling progressively more and more irritated - along with the knowledge that I've many more to come. It's not just me either. I'm relieved to hear that friends get similar treatment. I wonder if we all share a common characteristic?

    Thanks for the link, very accurate. Particularly 3 & 4 I'd say. (Thinking about it, I could probably have written a much shorter post had I just said people present strawman arguments.) I enjoyed reading about people foisting personal agendas on others. Mostly because if I'd said that, I'd worry about being paranoid!